I think I love thee, O Jerusalem

This piece was first published on Times of Israel. (Edited – read “improved” – June 2, 2013.)

Dear Jerusalem,

You are a tough place to live. You are a tough place to love.

It’s one thing to deal with your crowds, the multitude of cultures, the personal safety issues, and the religious turbulence as a tourist. It’s a whole other thing to live inside you, and to be engulfed with these things every single day.

And so, I have never really loving you despite always feeling committed to you.

But it wasn’t you. It was me.

You are a wild, in-your-face, livin’-on-the-edge, eastern city. For some, wild is a natural choice. But not for me; it’s not who I am.

That’s why I had to leave you for Vancouver in 2006.

After being a Jerusalemite for 16 years, I realized that I was sick of you. I found you rude, loud and unattractive. You also made me claustrophobic. When I noticed just how badly our relationship made me feel, I knew it was time for me to leave.

Then I met Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place where nothing much happens. It is peaceful and off the map – in many ways exactly what Jerusalem is not.

And I loved it.

I’m sorry, Jerusalem; Vancouver was the first city I ever loved. Because that was easy; I arrived, saw the ocean, the mountains, the sweet homes… A few people smiled at me on the street, and I was sold.

In many ways it was the perfect relationship. It was peaceful and I was able to express myself, my Jewishness, however I wanted – something I had never experienced with you. I had a sense of freedom I’d lacked here.

But no, I never forgot thee.

Because my roots are your roots. I didn’t know how I could ever live within you but something was missing when I lived without you.

And so, after two and a half years in Vancouver, I started the six month process of convincing myself to give you another chance. Returning to you was even more terrifying than leaving had been because it meant returning to a relationship that hadn’t work the first time.

I kept recalling how unhappy I had been in my former life. Neither of us could promise it would be different. But I was compelled to try. I had done some growing up and maybe you had too. I prayed this time we would fit.

Jerusalem, I gave Vancouver many kisses goodbye. I visited some last places, parted from friends. I said, “I love you but I have to go.”

I cried. And then I left… Knowing I may never return.

Our renewed relationship began on the eve of Rosh Hashana 2009. Jerusalem, you were buzzing with holiday preparations. My parents’ home was vibrant and I was surrounded by family members. Despite jet lag, I helped prepare for the holiday, so excited to finally spend it at home once again.

This was one of the most deeply emotional moments of my life. Not only a new year was beginning but a new life full of opportunity lay before me and I was proud to have decided to begin it all with you.

Jerusalem, I did not fall in love with you overnight. Someone like me can only grow to love a place like you.

Now, years later, I struggle through your hot summers but am in love with your glorious air. I am anywhere from uncomfortable to fearful of some of your Arab inhabitants but I am grateful not to be living in a bubble. I work hard to pay for a small flat but thank my good fortune for living in the home of my dreams in my favourite neighbourhood. I have even been learning how to express my unique Jewishness not hiding in Vancouver but right here where everyone can see.

I love where east meets west deep inside of you. I stand on Derech Hevron on the Cinematheque bridge and look out to the Old City, the new city and the hills of the Judean Desert.

I walk on the train tracks on Yaffo Street downtown where all kinds of characters roam, and I know when one chooses a relationship with you, one chooses to live on the edge.

You are the place where things happen. Your history is so long that some archaeologists chuck aside anything found that is less than 2,000 years old. You are the heart of the Jewish people and it is under Jewish leadership that you have become a pluralistic city, open to people of all religions.

I find myself at peace inside of you despite all the challenges you pose and all the hard work necessary.

O Jerusalem, I will always think of Vancouver as a beautiful little corner of the world but you are the real deal for a Jewess like me. You are prickly and stoney and yet you are beautiful and welcoming in a way not everyone can see.

I am blessed because now I am able to see it.

And I love you. I truly do.

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